October 20, 2019

An Author’s First Rule in Writing

Anica Mrose Rissi

Anica Mrose Rissi

Every book editor and literary agent seems to have a list of rules handy. And Anica Mrose Rissi, an Executive Editor at Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, seems no exception.

In her post on Writer’s Digest, she lists nine rules for authors. I have wondered how much each person’s list related to the entry in the top spot.
What’s the first rule for fiction and nonfiction authors?
Anica says, “Revise, revise, revise! I don’t want to read your first draft, ever.” (Emphasis is Anica’s.)
Yep, that advice would be at or near the top on my list as well.
Writing is not about the quality of where an author starts–the first draft–but where she or he finishes, where the keys stop clattering and the author says, “That’s it. Now what do you think?”
For me (and I’m guessing for Anica) it might be better to say at the end of a draft, “That’s it for now. I need to let it rest and give it another read tomorrow.” And do this for a couple more times.
Am I reading too much into her repetition of revise? She includes in her first rule, this tip:”Your novel isn’t ready to send to me until you can describe it in one sentence.” I take this to mean that the author has so combed through the narrative that its plotting structure and storyline are crystal clear.
The number of revisions doesn’t matter. If you are revising toward a particular end, say, a well-told story (whether fiction or nonfiction), then this goal (and not the number of iterations) dictates when the final draft is achieved.
Anica’s next four points (slightly revised) steer toward that goal in that these are early signs of a potentially good story:
  • Start with conflict (and its outcomes, action and suspense)
  • Start with the story you’re telling (and not the back story)
  • Start with what’s at stake or where the story is going
  • Start with a story; don’t explain too much too soon
 I suspect that is the author’s first rule in most or all the lists at hand from literary agents and publisher’s editors because the advice among the rules is inter-related.   
So the first rule of writing, then, is revising until a good story is told. Cooked down, agents, editors, and readers all want to take that ride.

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